Starring: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Running Time: 118 mins
The Neon Demon is an American film about a girl who moves to Los Angeles to start a career in modelling, and quickly becomes the talk of the town through a series of auditions, but also stacks up enemies in the meantime.
If Blade Runner were a movie about modelling, it would be The Neon Demon. With a thrilling, transcendent atmosphere, mind-blowing visuals and a pulsating score, The Neon Demon is yet another striking piece of cinema from director Nicolas Winding Refn, although not quite the exhilarating, enthralling narrative work that it pretends to be.
You’d often call that style over substance, but things are a little more complicated with The Neon Demon. Far from a poor film, I had a whale of a time with it, and even though it doesn’t quite hit the heights it seems to hint at early on, it’s an unforgettable cinematic experience that pushes far beyond the typical limits of mainstream film.
Above all, the visuals are electrifying. Bathed in neon throughout, the film is a gorgeous piece of pulp cinema, set against sleek backdrops in the higher echelons of the modelling world, and featuring eye-catching sequences of almost dreamlike strangeness. Refn’s direction is second to none through the entirety of The Neon Demon, and the cinematography is beyond belief at times, dazzling right the way through with its bold and deeply beautiful style throughout.
And on top of the visuals, the film features an equally exhilarating musical score, which blends the transcendent, epiphany-life power of Vangelis’ work from Blade Runner with a pulsating beat throughout, lending the film a striking feel of post-post-modernism that will absolutely blow you away.
It’s fair to say then, that The Neon Demon is one of the most visually exceptional films you’ll ever come across, but is it more than just a pretty face? Well, this is where the film’s biggest problems come in, as its story never really lives up to the intensity and power that its style seems to promise, but it’s not a simple case of style over substance.
Following the whirlwind rise of a young model to stardom, the film gets deep into the darker, nasty elements of showbusiness, while also taking a look at the brutality of human jealousy, envy and anger. In that, there’s a lot going on in The Neon Demon, and along with its electrifying style, it seems to hint at stunning drama and devastating twists.
At its core, the story plays out in similar fashion to Darren Aronofsky’s brilliant Black Swan, but where the films have a comparable narrative, The Neon Demon unfortunately ends up as a rather predictable and (at least narratively speaking) underwhelming watch. Its style sets a high standard throughout, and the story never has a hope of living up to it, but come the end, it turns out that The Neon Demon’s ideas and themes are never quite as complex or transcendent as you may hope.
While the pace, beat and energy of the film is second to none throughout, the drama peaks a little too early, and with a rather underwhelming second half of the story, the movie struggles to dazzle in the way that it really wants to.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to look past the visuals, such is the eye-catching power of the film’s style from beginning to end, but the movie never quite has the same deep intensity of a Blade Runner or a Black Swan, missing out on really great drama as a result of a predictable and underwhelming screenplay. Watch the movie for a transcendent visual experience, but don’t expect the world from the narrative, and that’s why I’m giving The Neon Demon a 7.6 overall.